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Who Determines A Child Custody Schedule in NJ?

Divorce and separation involve major decisions, and even more so for people with children. Determining the right legal and physical custody arrangement for your child is pivotal to their well-being—and yours. Yet the parenting plan that feels appropriate for one family, or even one parent, can vary drastically from that preferred by another.

A knowledgeable family law attorney can work with you to find a personalized parenting plan for your family. As you become informed about who is responsible for determining a child custody schedule in New Jersey and what factors go into those decisions, here are some important points to know. 

Determining child custody

Depending on how amicable your relationship is with your co-parent, you may be able to craft your own parenting plan through mediation or collaborative divorce. 

While a judge will ultimately need to approve your plan, you will have significant leeway in determining the particular arrangement that is suitable for your family. For example, you could choose to build a flexible parenting time plan based on your respective work schedule demands and your child’s extracurricular activities rather than a strict alternating weekly schedule.  

However, coming to a mutual agreement may prove to be challenging. Even in the best of circumstances, it’s often necessary for the court to intervene in these matters to determine an acceptable middle ground that protects the best interest of the child. 

To help parents and judges navigate the nuances of custody arrangements, including the process of deciding how much time the child should spend with each parent, New Jersey has established certain child custody laws. These laws are designed to take the best interests of the child into account, as well as protect parents’ rights. 

In any custody matter, the judge will take certain details under consideration, including: 

Is New Jersey a 50/50 custody state?

Because frequently switching homes can be unsettling, especially for very young children, New Jersey doesn’t require that children split their time equally or 50/50 between parents. 

Instead, the court will make a custody decision that is in the child’s best interests.

In some cases, this may mean that one parent has more parenting time than the other. Ultimately, this will depend on factors such as each parent’s work schedule, the child’s school schedule, and the child’s needs.

Types of child custody schedules in NJ

There are two main types of custody in New Jersey—legal and physical custody. When people talk about custody “schedules,” they’re usually referring to physical custody, which refers to where the child lives and spends the most time.

Like legal custody, physical custody can be “joint” or “sole.” While New Jersey courts often grant sole or primary residential custody of a child to one parent while both parents retain legal custody of the child, a judge could also recommend another type of physical custody arrangement. 

Sole physical custody 

When one parent has sole physical custody, the child lives primarily with that parent and spends two nights or less with the other parent per week. A judge may recommend this particular custody arrangement if two parents live far apart or one parent has been deemed unfit to care for the child. 

Sometimes, parents misunderstand sole custody and believe that it grants one parent the right to withhold child visitation or parenting time. It’s important to note that this is not the case. 

Joint residential (physical) custody

Joint custody often involves one parent spending a larger share of time with the child than the other. However, under this arrangement, both parents are entitled to a specific amount of parenting time, and the child is able to spend a significant amount of time with both parents. 

At what age can a child choose which parent to live with in NJ?

Parents frequently ask our family law attorneys how old their child has to be to choose which parent to live with. In New Jersey, there is no set age at which a child can make this decision. Rather, the judge will consider the child’s age, maturity level, and ability to make an informed decision when determining whether to take their preference into account.

This means that, in some cases, a child as young as 12 years old may be allowed to express their preference for one parent to the court. However, the court recognizes that children aren’t always emotionally mature enough to make the best decisions for their well-being. 

As such, there’s no guarantee that a child’s preference will be followed. The judge will still consider other factors, such as the child’s relationship with each parent, before making a final decision about any legal and physical custody arrangement. 

Do you have unanswered questions about child custody schedules in NJ? Consult Dughi, Hewit & Domalewski

If you have questions about child custody schedules, the attorneys at Dughi, Hewit & Domalewski are here to help.

We know that understanding the nuances of custody schedules in New Jersey can lessen the burden of navigating your family law matter—and that it’s much easier with the support of an experienced family law attorney.

Protect your rights as a parent and ensure that your child’s best interests are the top priority in your custody schedule. Schedule your consultation with our team today. 

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